Crown of Thorns

The war was something that she never desired, but her birthright as a daughter of the Yagari family forced her to be a part of it. She killed level Est and slowly destroyed herself until the night her life was saved. Salvation was a distant dream, but maybe it was closer than she had originally believed.


28. The Open Door

Two weeks had come and gone. Kenta had not yet returned. His absence proved to be a double edged blade for Ren spent most of her time visiting with her. The woman was becoming a bother. She said nothing though. Her presence was one that she would tolerate for as long as she was able to. Each time Ren appeared at her door though, she began to miss the anonymity that her life at her childhood home had offered. Nothing could be done to fix this now though; aside from abandoning Kenta completely. Her father would know of this and she was not prepared to deal with his wrath.

Her trips to the town made life a bit more bearable. The walk was always nice and she often would stop by the road and just lay in the grass, staring at the clouds. Her thoughts would drift to Toga and how they would guess the shapes that the clouds made. Most of the time she saw rabbits. This amused her for in the past Toga always saw bears instead.

On this day she was relaxing. The day was cool, but not so much so that she felt the need to hurry home. The sun was hidden behind the clouds. Studying their forms, she happened to see a bear. Her lips twitched. As a child Toga would have been proud that she admitted to seeing this creature though, she never did. Making him angry had been far too much fun.

"You seem comfortable."

She sat up very quickly. Her vision blurred for a brief moment as blood rushed to her head. "Toga?"

He smiled at her. "Hello, Shiriko." He was startled when she threw herself at him. Managing to catch himself before he fell on his back, he wrapped his other arm around her. "I missed you too." He pressed a kiss to her brow.

"What are you doing here?"

Her demand made him wonder if she was angry. She had told him in more than one way that he was to stay away from this place. After reading her most recent letter though, he had finally tossed reason away. "You seemed lonely."

She stared at him for a moment before looking away. Tucking her legs beneath her, she played with the edge of her shirt. "I am now and then."

"Haven't you made friends?"

Chewing on her lower lip, she pondered the word friend. "Not exactly," she said, answering as honestly as she was able to.

He shook his head. "I would have been surprised if you had said yes." He glanced up at the sky. "See anything interesting in the clouds?"

"Not really."

They sat for a time, heads tilted back as the clouds drifted slowly above them.

"How long are you staying, Toga?"

"How long do you want me to stay?"


Settled at the table, Toga sipped at the tea that Shiriko had made him. His gaze followed her as she prepared supper for them. He could almost imagine that they were home; not at Kenta's house. Right now though, he could admit that this place felt like home; if only because of her. He supposed that was a good enough of a reason as any.

"You are staring."

"I haven't had much opportunity to." He immediately regretted his words. She had quickly looked away and looked less than happy. "Shiriko-"

"How is my garden?"

He allowed the change in topic. It was easier than awkward silence. "I don't have the same talent as you."

"What does that mean?"

"It comes and goes."

She frowned. "I should have left instructions for you."

"I don't think that would have helped."

Glancing at him, she smiled. "No... I suppose not. You are rather useless."

"Thanks for that."

"Of course." She returned her attention back to the stew. Biting her lower lip, she tried to focus on maintaining a light hearted mood rather than what Toga had said. She was certain that the statement was innocent, but she could not be entirely certain; especially after everything that Kenta had said. Why was Kenta's voice in her mind? She wished that it wasn't. Even with him gone she couldn't escape him.

Her shoulders were tense. He tried not to stare, hoping that would help her to relax. It did not though. When he caught glimpses of her face he saw that her gaze was distant as if she had a lot on her mind.

"How is father?"

"I don't know. He hasn't been home much."

"That doesn't surprise me." She filled two bowls with the stew before carrying them to the table.

"Has he contacted you?"


He thanked when one bowl was placed in front of him. The scent alone was enough to prompt him to attack the meal.

Her lips twitched with amusement. When had she last seen him so ravenous? She couldn't remember. Her smile weakened. Was he eating well enough? Studying him, she saw no drastic change in his appearance. Toga did look a bit thinner, but he had never been a good cook and he normally did when she was not there to cook for him. "I'm sorry that I have not come to visit."

"No." He shook his head. "You have good reason not to between father and Kenta."

She gave a wry laugh and took her first bite. Her appetite seemed to have vanished when the thought of the two of them. The mere mention alone had been enough to add their father's voice to Kenta's in her head.

"I should have come sooner."

"I am certain that you were busy. Cerin mentioned that you were being loaded down with missions."

"When did you speak with Cerin?"

"When I last reported to the Council... Two months ago."

"You have not been too busy then."

"No... I think that the standard has been lowered for me now that I am married."

He shook his head, hardly believing that. She was one of the best hunters. He doubted that marriage had caused her to weaken in her abilities. "Father might be behind that. He is the reason that I have been in the field more than usual... This is the longest break that I have had in months."

"So you came to see me."


"You need to find better use for your time, Toga."

"I thought this was."

She looked down into her stew. Barely any change had been made in the amount. She quickly took several more spoonfuls. "I am not surprised that father would do such a thing. He can be stubborn."


Her lips twitched. She and Toga were no different. Why else would Toga risk coming here?

Shiriko said nothing more and he maintained his own silence. The quiet was nice in a way. He would have liked to talk more, but he supposed that they had a few days to do so. For now they could just enjoy each other's presence.


"Will you be okay with sleeping in the living room?"

"Fine." He glanced at where she stood in the doorway. She had changed into her nightgown at some point. Looking at the clock he saw that it was still early. "Are you going to bed?"

"Yes. I am tired."

"Are you feeling alright."

She nodded. "Just tired."

He stared at her for a moment longer before nodding. "Alright." He was surprised when she crossed the room and stopped in front of him. She pressed a kiss to his cheek before moving away. Swallowing thickly, he then smiled and pressed a kiss to her brow. "Good night, Shiriko."

"Good night."

"Sleep well."

"I will." She started to walk away only to pause in the doorway. "If you need anything just wake me."

He nodded. She remained for a moment longer and then she was gone. He didn't hear the bedroom door close. Eventually he turned his attention back to the couch. Scratching his head, he looked at the makeshift bed that she had made up for him. The couch didn't look too comfortable, but she had reassured him that it was. Deciding that he had nothing better to do he changed and laid down. The couch was a little too short, but that didn't bother him too much. After fixing the pillow a couple of times he closed his eyes and focused on slowing his breathing.


Toga sat up abruptly. Knife in hand he looked around the room. He saw nothing. Studying the windows, he saw only darkness. Slowing his breathing, he tried to remember why he had woken so suddenly. In the minutes that passed he couldn't remember nor did he manage to relax. Standing up, he walked down the hall to Shiriko's room.

The door was partly open. He pushed it open until it had swung in enough for him to see Shiriko. She was fast asleep and appeared undisturbed. A glance around the room showed nothing unusual except that the window was open. Rather than close it he left it alone. He closed the door partly and returned to the living room.

He set his knife with the rest of his belongings. Walking to the window, he stared out into the darkness. Nothing felt unusual. When he studied the night he thought he saw a glimpse of light, but it vanished so quickly that he dismissed it as his imagination. Still, when he laid down he found himself on edge again. He felt as though he were being watched. A second look out the window revealed nothing though and he still did not sense anything that did not belong. He settled down on the couch again and forced himself to close his eyes.


"You look terrible."

He ignored the comment. "How did you sleep?"

"Fine. And you?"

"Well enough." He glanced at her. Shiriko had turned her attention to her breakfast. He decided to follow suite, but found himself stifling a yawn instead. She was smirking at him, but this he ignored as well. He was in no mood to be bothered about his inability to sleep. That bothered him enough by not knowing the reason. He stabbed at his eggs.

"What would you like to do?"

"I don't live here, Shiriko."

She frowned. He was in a mood. "Do you want to go into town?"

"Do you need to?"


He was silent for a moment. "We can stay here. I would like to talk."

This prompted her to smile. "That sounds like a good idea." She had missed being able to just sit down and talk to him about everything. However, she did not tell him this. She was certain that he already knew.


They had both ended up in the living room cleaning their weapons. Toga had suggested doing so outside, but she had convinced him to do so inside. The last thing that she wanted was having to explain both the weapons and Toga to Ren should the woman decide to come and visit. The mere thought of having to explain the presence of her own brother was irritating enough.

"So this Ren-"

"Stop it, Toga."

He was surprised by the glare that she gave him. Still, he felt the need to push. She seemed more frustrated than angry. He wondered what this woman was like. The few words that Shiriko had said about her had amused him. He could picture a frail woman following Shiriko around like a chick following a hen. "Kenta wants you to be friends with her?"

"Toga." She shook her head. "Yes, but it is impossible. I have never been so bothered by an elder." He said nothing and she would have not continued, but now she felt the need to speak. "She thinks that she knows the Yagari family."

The statement made him raise an eyebrow.

"Apparently there are stories about this family and none of them are very good for proper society." She glared at him when he chuckled. "Toga."

"What type of stories?" he asked, not certain if he really wanted to know.

"I do not know." She tossed the whetstone aside. "She will not tell me."

"Did you ask?"

"No," she admitted after a moment. "I do not like gossip." He had started to laugh again. She narrowed her eyes and attempted to be angry. However, his amusement managed to make her lips twitch, then she was smiling, and then she was laughing too. "It really is not that funny," she said when they had both quieted after several minutes.

"I am sure that it is not."

He was teasing her. She glared at him and he met her gaze. He smirk caused her to frown.

"Do you want me to talk to her?"


For a long time they sat in silence save for the sound of their whetstones on his blade. Toga turned his head enough so that he could study Shiriko. Like their childhood fights she had completely dismissed their exchange about Ren. Yet he could see that she was troubled despite how much she tried to hide this from him. He had sensed it since his arrival and he could only wonder what it was that was on her mind. "I think that I will leave in the morning." For a moment everything became clear to him when she looked at him and then it was gone. She had managed to hide everything away from him, but he had seen enough.

"I will pack you a lunch."


She didn't want to hear what he was going to say next, but she didn't try to stop him either.

"Leave with me."


"You're not happy here. We can go-"

"I can't!" She set her knife down and held her head in her hands. Why did he have to bring this up now? Didn't he understand- but she did want to go. She couldn't stand it here any longer. Between Ren and Kenta- Kenta would know if she left and then their father would know.

"I know that you don't share my feelings, but just leave Shiriko. How much longer can you stay here? How much longer can you pretend?"


"Fuck him!"

She stared at him with wide eyes. Never before had she seen Toga so furious.

He let his weapons clatter to the floor. Pacing the room, he finally stopped and faced her. "If you stay here you'll be lost. Do you want that?"

"I won't-"

"Shiriko!" He took a deep breath. Crossing the room, he knelt in front of her and gently held her hands. "Leave with me. We can go our separate ways afterwards. Just... Leave."

She shook her head. "I can't. Not now."

"Why?" Her grip on his hands tightened. "Shiriko."


He had been reluctant to leave. However, he had agreed to her wishes and had left with few words. Only once he had asked her to leave with him again with them both knowing that she would not go.

From the tree she watched Toga's retreating form. Yes, she regretted not going, but this was for the best. Closing her eyes, she felt the warmth that trailed down her face and did her best to ignore it lest she completely fall apart. When she opened her eyes Toga was gone. This is for the best, she re-affirmed again. It has to be.

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